Nonfiction: Maps, the Politics of "Christian," Cycle Touring, and Richard Diebenkorn | Xpress Reviews

Bonnett’s exploration of areas unmarked on any map will delight fans of geography and cartography; a ubiquitous word in American politics that is deceptively difficult to pin down; sure to inspire many cycling odysseys; an accomplished bio of an exceptional, revered American master

Week ending April 20, 2018


Bonnett, Alastair. Beyond the Map: Unruly Enclaves, Ghostly Places, Emerging Lands and Our Search for New Utopias. Univ. of Chicago. Apr. 2018. 304p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780226513843. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780226513980. TRAV

Bonnett (social geography, Newcastle Univ.; Unruly Places) is intrigued by the idea of place, and his latest book explores the definition of geography, the changing landscape and shifting borders, challenging readers’ knowledge of what they think of as a map. The majority of the 39 short chapters are enticing introductions to geographical topics that will stimulate readers to seek further knowledge. From the concept of guerrilla gardening in concrete jungles, trap streets on many maps, and the coastal tsunami stones planted decades or centuries ago in Japan, to the 534 islands that were only just discovered in the Philippines, the 1,367-mile-long Saharan Sand Wall, or the 84 acres of Christiania in the middle of Copenhagen, Bonnett fascinates with an exploration of the world beyond the map. Readers will want to take their time with each chapter, to peruse every new and often thought-provoking idea.

Verdict Bonnett’s exploration of areas unmarked on any map will delight fans of geography and cartography.—Melissa Keegan, Ela Area P.L., Lake Zurich, IL


Bowman, Matthew. Christian: The Politics of a Word in America. Harvard Univ. Apr. 2018. 320p. notes. index. ISBN 9780674737631. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780674985735. REL

Although the word Christian has been used frequently throughout the history of American politics, there is no clear consensus about its meaning. Bowman (history, Henderson State Univ.; The Mormon People) here presents a series of case studies that illustrate some of the ways in which Americans have used the language of Christianity to justify wildly diverse social and political perspectives about concepts such as liberty, equality, and democracy. Starting with the Election of 1872 and continuing up to the present, Bowman examines Christian republicanism, liberal Protestantism, Cold War Christianity, the civil rights movement, the Unification Church, and the religious right, among a number of additional viewpoints. Alongside the struggle to define Christian is a parallel debate about the meaning of its traditional nemesis, materialism, which has been traditionally used to describe whatever a particular group of Christians happen to fear or oppose.

Verdict This fascinating book will appeal to readers interested in understanding the historical complexities of a ubiquitous word in American politics that is deceptively difficult to pin down.—Brian Sullivan, Alfred Univ. Lib., NY


Cunningham, Joshua. Escape by Bike: Adventure Cycling, Bikepacking and Touring Off-Road. Thames & Hudson. Apr. 2018. 264p. illus. ISBN 9780500293508. pap. $29.95. TRAV

An impressive account of a global bike journey that’s equal parts travelog and tales of endurance. Cunningham, an experienced cycle tourist, photographer, and writer, vividly portrays his exploits with colorful photos. The text focuses on coping with rugged and off-road surroundings such as forests, deserts, mountains, and tropics, with one chapter dedicated to city experiences. Each section provides useful advice and information to potential riders on preparation, bike selection, gear, shelter, sleeping, food, safety, navigation, language barriers, timing, and budget, which can all vary depending on the journey. Of course, you can’t plan for everything; big treks such as the one the author undertook are not for the faint of heart. Also included is basic guidance that true adventure cyclists are already aware of, but daydreamers and beginners looking for encouragement will enjoy. Riders would do well to consult as well relevant organizations and associations, such as the Adventure Cycling Association, for additional information on cycle touring.

Verdict A good balance of eye candy and substance, sure to inspire many cycling odysseys. For libraries with active and outdoorsy populations.—John N. Jax, Univ. of Wisconsin Lib., La


Crosse Shields, Scott A. Richard Diebenkorn: Beginnings, 1942–1955. Pomegranate. 2017. 240p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780764979415. $50. FINE ARTS

Acclaimed in his early 20s, painter Richard Diebenkorn (1922–93) transcended the usual New York bias against Californians with numerous exhibitions on both coasts. He showed flair at the vanguard of the transition toward abstract expressionism in American art, working among a cadre of progenitors of the style. These mentor-collaborators included Clyfford Still, David Park, and Hassell Smith, all many years his senior. Over time, these artists repeatedly crossed the line between abstraction and representation—Diebenkorn perhaps best known for his elegant Ocean Park paintings, which evoke the sun’s clarity outside his Santa Monica studio, while toying with that boundary. Spawned by a show at Sacramento’s Crocker Museum, this biography focuses on his early years of searching for a mature style while teaching at Berkeley and the California School of Fine Art and engaging with the pacesetters of American painting. Crocker curator Shields deserves praise for giving us much more than an exhibition catalog: not since Gerald Nordland’s authoritative profile, published before Diebenkorn’s death, has there been such a devoted and definitive biography. While tracking the artist’s development, Shields includes loads of interesting detail, such as Diebenkorn’s use of house paints owing to cost, the vastness of his canvases, and a falling-out with Still, which makes Still sound like a stuffed shirt.

Verdict An accomplished bio of an exceptional, revered American master.—Douglas F. Smith, Oakland P.L.

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